by Kaitlin Lyle
Sitting in the audience of Torp Theater last Sunday afternoon, members of the Central Connecticut community enjoyed an enriching musical experience in observing “A Touch of Sinatra,” a show dedicated to presenting the life and music of Frank Sinatra and his companions in the music business.
Presented by the Italian Resource Center in cooperation with the Elihu Burritt Library, the occasion on October 16, 2016, was made possible through the suggestion of Dr. Maria Passaro of the CCSU Department of Modern Languages, who had seen “A Touch of Sinatra” at a library event over the summer. The performance took place at 3 p.m. in Davison Hall’s Torp Theatre and gathered a crowd of Sinatra enthusiasts. Following an introduction by Dr. Passaro and Dr. Carl Antonucci, Director of Library Services, the show commenced with Joe Gilligan narrating the well-loved singer’s story and Donnie Fararro providing musical talent from Sinatra’s broad music career.
“We’re going to show the good and the bad, the people he loved and the people who loved him, and his enemies,” said Gilligan at the start of their performance. “We’re going to do a bit of everything.” With that brief foreword, the duo brought the audience back in time to Sinatra’s early days, beginning with his birth on December 12, 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey. As the audience began to settle into the ambiance that Gilligan and Fararro designed to tell Sinatra’s story, the theater was soon echoing with the familiar songs of the late artist, beginning with Fararro’s delivery of “New York, New York.”
With each account of the notable moments in Sinatra’s life, the theater lights would illuminate both the stage and the audience, subsequently lowering as the stories gave way to melody. In combining the words of his story with the lyrics of his music, the performers incorporated specific works that aptly depicted the trials and tribulations in Sinatra’s life: from his divorce from first wife Nancy Barbato (“All the Way”) to the moment of his first big break in 1939 (“Fly Me to the Moon”). With each celebrated song, the audience was enraptured as Fararro crooned the lyrics in the familiar style of the late artist. Along with their celebration of Sinatra through Fararro’s musical renditions, it was through Gilligan’s narration that the audience received an education of little-known details in Sinatra’s personal life, including the unfortunate eardrum injury he underwent at birth.
Between the anecdotes and the musical performances, Gilligan and Fararro shared a few jokes from their experiences that had members of the audience chuckling in their seats. However, their routine onstage was not entirely limited to narrating the life and music of Frank Sinatra, but also included the individual stories of Sinatra’s acquaintances during his music career, such as Perry Como, Johnnie Ray, and Dean Martin. In their renditions of Dean Martin’s melodies, the duo encouraged the audience to join them in singing the lyrics, succeeding as the crowd began singing “That’s Amore” with gusto. Yet it was during the grand finale – in which Fararro and Gilligan dedicated the song “My Way” to the memory of Sinatra’s beloved mother Dolly – that the audience members, regardless of age, joined in singing along with the popular ballad before replacing their singing with a standing ovation for the talent onstage.
Following the performances by Gilligan and Farrarro, there was an intermission outside of the theater that served Italian-style refreshments before the Italian film “Stanno Tutti Bene,” (Everybody is Fine) commenced.
Among the audience was Professor Gil Gigliotti of the English Department who was present along with the Western Culture II course that he co-teaches with Professor David Blitz of the Philosophy Department. Around the campus of CCSU Professor Gigliotti is especially known for his avid interest in the life of Frank Sinatra, as was referenced by Dr. Passaro in her introduction. As a professor in the English Department, he has taught several courses on Frank Sinatra throughout his time at CCSU, including a course abroad entitled “The London Sinatra(s)” during the winter semester of 2015. In addition, Professor Gigliotti has written two books that incorporate the musician’s life story, “Sinatra: But Buddy I’m a Kind of Poem” in 2008 and “A Storied Singer: Frank Sinatra as Literary Conceit” in 2002, both of which can be found at the CCSU library. Since December of 1993, he has hosted a radio program entitled “Frank, Gil, and Friends” on Tuesdays from 8 to 10 a.m. in affiliation with the CCSU Radio Station 107.7 WFCS, where Gigliotti is also the faculty advisor. At the heart of the professor’s time on the air is the music of Sinatra, from his contemporaries to the music that Sinatra inspired in today’s genres.
As a whole, Gigliotti remarked that he admires the late singer’s persistence and hard work throughout his music career. “He started off as a hit among young teenage girls and his career should have ended shortly thereafter, but for any number of reasons, he managed to come back and he stayed on top for the rest of his life.” said Gigliotti. With regards to “A Touch of Sinatra,” Gigliotti stated that he hoped that his students would be able to observe the performance with a critical eye, given the knowledge they attained over the past two months. “I’m not looking for them to take away anything specific as much as hearing someone else tell the story and perform the music,” said Gigliotti.
Needless to say, those who attended the performance in Torpe Theater this past weekend were treated to a well-rounded cultural event that celebrated the lives of notable Italian musicians as well as the music that has bonded their impact throughout generations.